Backed by research and results

Voices in Motion was launched as a research project. We believe that ongoing research will benefit society at large as well as Voices in Motion, making it a cutting-edge program that offers a non-pharmacological intervention.

Research reported on this website was supported by the Alzheimer’s Society Research Program and the Pacific Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Knowledge translation and dissemination awards were received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.  Support was also provided by the Institute for Aging and Lifelong Health at the University of Victoria.

 

VOICES IN MOTION HAS BECOME A CHORAL COMMUNITY OF SIGNIFICANCE, BELONGING AND ACCEPTANCE.

Stigma represents one of the biggest barriers to living with dignity following dementia diagnosis. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, almost half of Canadians would not want others to know if they have dementia for fear of stigmatization — as a consequence, many experience social isolation.

Why is this of concern? Social isolation is linked to elevated stress hormones and inflammation—well-known risk factors for numerous diseases and death. Research findings indicate that social isolation poses a health risk comparable to being sedentary or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. These findings prompted the United Kingdom to appoint a Minister for Loneliness in 2018—a policy initiative worth considering as we implement our own National Dementia Strategy.

Social singing draws upon emotional and procedural brain systems unaffected by dementia. Those with the disease participate in choir to the same degree as any other individual—a critical consideration for increasing social contact and reducing stigma.

IMPROVEMENT IN EPISODIC MEMORY

Participation in the choir resulted in significant improvement in episodic memory (the recall of details from long-term memory) for both individuals with dementia as well as their family caregivers.

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Memories of specific events and experiences are examples of episodic memory. Episodic memories are important because they allow you to recall personal experiences that are an important part of your life. Research findings from Voices in Motion suggest that the benefits of choir (improving quality of life and affect, reducing levels of agitation and distress) result in improved brain function and the corresponding ability to create new memories in spite of dementia.

GAINS IN MEMORY FUNCTION FOR PWD

Participation in the choir saw modest gains in memory function for PWD, with much larger gains observed for caregivers. Memory Gains is the act of improving one’s memory or neuroplasticity.

PRONOUNCED DIFFERENCES IN BRAIN ACTIVATION

Participation in the choir (group singing) in comparison to solo singing resulted in pronounced differences in brain activation:

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A. Increased Oxygenation in the frontal cortex of the brain was observed for the solo vs. social singing condition. The increased activation observed while singing alone likely reflects both increased novelty and stress (as all previous rehearsals required group singing). In contrast, during choral (group) singing, the reduced levels of activation observed for these same brain regions likely reflects reliance on other brain systems (emotional, procedural) to successfully participate in choir. Why do these differences matter? Notably, the frontal cortex is another region of the brain known to deteriorate with dementia; accordingly, devising activities (such as singing well-known songs with a group) that minimize recruitment of such brain regions will enhance successful participation for those with dementia.

B. Social singing elicits neurochemical brain changes that enhance contact, coordination and cooperation with others. Neurochemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are crucial for mood stabilization. They are not found in the same regions of the brain nor in abundance in the brains of those suffering from depression.

C. Music is a superstimulus, drawing upon many brain systems unaffected by dementia, that permits those with the disease to participate in choir to the same degree as any other individual (a critical consideration for increasing social contact and reducing stigma).

REDUCED LEVELS OF STRESS, ANXIETY & DEPRESSION

Participation in the choir reduced levels of stress, anxiety and depression for both the person with dementia and their family members – key factors that are known to impair memory function.

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Memory is the set of processes used to encode, store, and retrieve information over different periods of time. Among the many subtypes of dementia, memory impairments are most pronounced for those with Alzheimer’s Disease due to pronounced changes in a brain region linked to encoding and retrieving memories. Increased stress in general, and caregiver distress in particular, is also known to impair memory function.

The most notable improvements in memory and reductions in depressive symptoms were observed for caregivers – a finding that may reflect the social benefits of the choir intervention (meeting others experiencing similar changes, having a social outlet, overcoming the tendency to withdraw socially).

Meet the five pioneers of Voices in Motion

Watch the video below as they share what they have learned personally and professionally from their experience with the choir – the moments that took them by surprise, the significant research findings and the human connections that were made. If you are interested in research possibilities, please contact Debra Sheets.

Presentations and Publications

Our researchers have been busy. Here is just a partial list of their presentations and publications.

TALKS

MacDonald, Stuart W.S. (2018, May). On The Importance of Variability and Change for Detecting Health Function & Risk. Invited Talk presented at the MSFHR Collaborating and Convening Grant Meeting “Technologies in Assisted Living”, May 18, 2018, Elim Village, 9025 160 Street, Surrey, BC

MacDonald, S.W.S., Sheets, D.S., Smith, A.P., Trites, M., Kennedy, M., & Tamburri, C. (2018, October). Evaluating the impact of a social intervention on psychological outcomes for people with dementia. Paper presented as part of the symposium on “Focusing on Forte: The Benefits of a Community-based Choir for People Living with Dementia and their Care Partners” (co-chairs: Debra Sheets, Stuart MacDonald) at the 47th Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting of the Canadian Association on Gerontology, October 19, 2018, Vancouver, MB

MacDonald, S.W.S., Sheets, D.S., Tamburri, C., Trites, M., & Smith, A.P. (2018, November). Evaluating the Impact of a Social Intervention on Psychological Outcomes for Persons with Dementia and Their Caregivers. Paper presented as part of the symposium on “Working in Concert: A Multi-Method Exploration of the Impact of an Intergenerational Choir on Persons with Dementia and their Caregivers” (co-chairs: Debra Sheets, Stuart MacDonald, Andre Smith, & Helen Kivnick) at the 70th Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, November 15, 2018, Boston, MA USA.

MacDonald, S.W.S. & Stawski, R.S. (2018, November). Intraindividual Variability Approaches to Cognitive Health and Aging: Synthesis and Implications. Paper presented as the discussant for the symposium on “Intraindividual Variability Approaches to Cognitive Health and Aging: Clinical, Neural and Psychosocial Links” (co-chairs: Robert Stawski & Stuart MacDonald) at the 70th Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, November 17, 2018, Boston, MA USA.

Stawski, R.S. & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2018, November). Intraindividual Variability Approaches to Cognitive Health and Aging: An Overview. Paper presented as part of the symposium on “Intraindividual Variability Approaches to Cognitive Health and Aging: Clinical, Neural and Psychosocial Links” (co-chairs: Robert Stawski & Stuart MacDonald) at the 70th Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, November 17, 2018, Boston, MA USA.

MacDonald, S.W.S., Smith, A.P. (2019, March). Finding our Forte: The Benefits of an Intergenerational Choir for People Living with Dementia and their Caregivers. Keynote presented at the University of Victoria’s Annual IdeaFest, Victoria, BC, March 7, 2019.

Sheets, D.A., Smith, A.P., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2019, April). Voices in Motion: A Social Cognitive Choir Intervention for Those with Dementia. Talk presented at the Deans’ Lunchtime Lecture Series, Victoria, BC, April 5, 2019.

MacDonald, S.W.S. (2019, May). Music & Dementia and The Voices in Motion Choir. Talk presented at The University of Victoria’s Connect U Conference, May 22, 2019, Victoria, BC.

POSTERS

Kennedy, M., Sheets, D., MacDonald, S.W.S., Smith, A., Asche, C., Sima, C., Gali, B., Malone, M., & Young, W. (2018, April). Voices in Motion: An Intergenerational Choir for Older Adults with Dementia and their Caregivers. Poster presented at the 15th Annual Geriatric Services Conference, Vancouver, BC, April 6, 2018.

Sheets, D, MacDonald, S.W.S., Smith, A.P., & Kennedy, M. (2018, June). Finding our Forte: The Benefits of a Community Choir for People Living with Dementia and their Care Partners. Poster presented at the Thirteenth International Conference on the Arts in Society, June 27-29, 2018, Vancouver, BC.

Grewal, K.S., Sheets, D.S., Smith, A.P., Trites, M., Kennedy, M., Tamburri, C., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2018, September). A Community Choir to Facilitate Psychosocial and Cognitive Health for Caregivers and Persons with Dementia. Poster presented at the Canadian Frailty Network 2018 National Conference on Frailty, September 20-22, 2018, Toronto, ON.

Sheets, D., Malone, M., MacDonald, Smith, A., & Hundza, S. (2018) Voice Assisted Technologies to Support Persons Living with Dementia and their Care Partners. Poster presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association on Gerontology, October 18-20, 2018, Vancouver, BC.

Walters, A., Sheets, D., MacDonald, S., Smith, A. (2019, March) A Chorus for Caregivers: The impact of an intergenerational Choir on Family Caregivers for Persons with Dementia. Poster presented at the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) Fair, University of Victoria, March 2019. Victoria, BC.

Davie, F., Sheets, D., Kennedy, M., MacDonald, S., Smith, A. (2019, March) An Intergenerational Choir for People with Dementia and Care Partners: The Perceptions of High School Students. Poster presented at the Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards (JCURA) Fair, University of Victoria, March 2019. Victoria, BC.

Tamburri, C., Trites, M., Sheets, D.A., Smith, A.P., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2019, April). An Intergenerational Community Choir to Promote Psychosocial and Cognitive Health for Caregivers and Persons with Dementia. Poster presented at the annual Making Waves conference, Victoria, BC, April 5, 2019.

Tamburri, C., Trites, M., Sheets, D., Smith, A.P., & MacDonald S.W.S (2019, May). A Music Intervention for Improving Cognitive and Neural Function in Persons with Dementia. Poster to be presented at the annual Northwest Cognition and Memory Conference, Victoria, BC, May 9-11, 2019.

Colloquia Organized at National/International Conferences
Sheets, D. & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2018, October). Focusing on Forte: The Benefits of a Community-based Choir for People Living with Dementia and their Care Partners (Chairs: Debra Sheets & Stuart MacDonald). Symposium presented at the 47th Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting of the Canadian Association on Gerontology, October 19, 2018, Vancouver, MB

Sheets, D., MacDonald, S.W.S., Smith, A.P., & Kivnick, H. (2018, November). Co-Chair of Symposium entitled “Working in Concert: A Multi-Method Exploration of the Impact of an Intergenerational Choir on Persons with Dementia and their Caregivers.” Symposium organized for the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, November 14-18, 2018, Boston, USA.

Stawski, R.S., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (2018, November). Co-Chair of Symposium entitled “Intraindividual Variability Approaches to Cognitive Health and Aging: Clinical, Neural and Psychosocial Links.” Symposium organized for the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, November 14-18, 2018, Boston, USA.

PUBLICATIONS

Tamurri, N., Trites, M., Sheets, D.J., Smith, A.P., & MacDonald, S.W.S. (in press). The Promise of Intergenerational Choir for Improving Psychosocial and Cognitive Health for those with Dementia: The Voices in Motion Project. Arbutus Review.

*authors contributed equally to this work

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